Coastal Holistic Veterinarian: A wholesome approach
by Joli Allen
June 2012— The dried anchovy treats won him over instantly. Then there was the soft pad on the floor to lie on, and someone sitting close, speaking in a soothing voice — so soothing that he even let her take his temperature, something no one attempts without a struggle. “You are such a handsome fellow,” she whispered in his ear. Was that a pick–up line? Yes. Yes it was, because she lifted him and carried him to a table. “Let’s examine you,” she said. The examining table was covered in a fluffy blanket that kept his feet from slipping out from under him. It was a good thing too, because he felt wobbly-kneed by this new encounter.
This was Freddy’s first visit to Coastal Holistic, the veterinary clinic in the Coastside city of Pacifica owned by Kari Deleeuw and Molly Rice. Both graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and hold additional degrees in the veterinary sciences, including extensive post-graduate work in holistic medicine.
What exactly is holistic medicine? Deleeuw says there is a lot of overlap between traditional and holistic vet practices. However, the holistic practice is distinct in that it studies the entire animal in addition to the symptoms of the illness. As part of the diagnostic and therapy process, the vet looks at the animal’s behavior, lifestyle, and diet and nutrition requirements. The appointment allots more time to explore these areas thoroughly. “The holistic focus tends to be more ‘why did this problem occur and how can we keep it from re-occurring,’ rather than just ‘how do we fix the current problem,’” says Deleeuw.
Deleeuw and Rice offer acupuncture, nutrition counseling, prolotherapy, herbal medicine and chiropractic procedures. Their clientele includes horses, cats and dogs. Deleeuw has also worked on alpacas, llamas and even a giraffe.
Holistic medicine is a good choice for animals who have tried traditional avenues of remediation without a positive response. And it may be the only option for animals who can’t have surgery or who suffer from side effects of certain Western drugs. Deleeuw says the most rewarding patients who have come to her are the paralyzed cats or dogs who walk again after acupuncture treatment.
“When owners are given the choice of surgery or euthanasia, I really wish they were given the choice of surgery or acupuncture — or both — because of how well many of these animals recover with acupuncture.”
Deleeuw explains how the ancient Chinese practice works: “By putting needles in specific points, many of which contain bundles of nerves, we are able to stimulate blood flow and nerve firing in the body. This often causes pain relief and relaxation that can be seen just by watching the dogs and cats and their response to treatment.”
With the cat’s reputation for skittishness, it’s hard to picture one accepting an invitation to be prodded with needles for any set amount of time. But Deleeuw says most are fine with the procedure.
“People are surprised how often we have great cat success stories. They tend to really like acupuncture and we have very good success with upper respiratory infections and keeping chronic kidney failure cats feeling good years after diagnosis.”
Deleeuw has also seen great progress with older canine patients on pain medication for arthritis, who come to Coastal Holistic. Often just mobilizing the joints with chiropractic, providing some pain relief through acupuncture, and giving the owners better nutrition ideas “really helps them get off the daily pain meds and, I feel, really extends their quality years of life,” says Deleeuw.
As with the gentle balance of yin and yang, Eastern and Western medicine work well when they complement each other. “Many acupuncture points, like one on the wrist for sea sickness, have been adopted by modern medicine. Many of the herbs are also commonly used in modern medicine,” Deleeuw says.
What about heartworm medicine? Deleeuw says that most of her patients are on mainstream heartworm medicine because it is very safe. But for those who still prefer to not give it to their pets, she suggests the option of testing twice a year, and being very diligent about mosquito bite prevention.
If an animal is seeing two veterinarians, traditional and holistic, communication between those veterinarians is very important. Deleeuw says she always sends referral letters back to the vet who directs an animal to them so that everyone stays on the same page while focusing on healing the animal.
Alternative medicine for animals has been around for years and has a good track record. The Chinese treated horses and pigs with colic, diarrhea and skin problems using acupuncture, 3,000 years ago. The American Veterinary Medical Association now recognizes holistic medicine as a viable option. Yet some still may be reluctant to try alternative therapy because pet owners wonder if it is safe.
“Years of practice have convinced me that it is extremely safe in the right hands,” says Deleeuw. “There are certain patients that I will not do chiropractic work on right after injury because of what is going on in their spine, but there are very few where you would not want to do acupuncture.”